This two-part series utilizes archival sources in the UO Special Collections and University Archives to show the long and contentious history of athletic mascots on the Eugene campus. Read more about the Webfoot era in Part 1.
It wasn’t a far leap for the Webfooter to become a Duck, yet the adoption of the latter as the University of Oregon mascot was a contentious part of Eugene history. As former Emerald sports editor Harold Mangum noted about the Webfoot mascot in 1926, “The name has been changed to Ducks in most instances, and if similarity to a duck is anything to be proud of, the world’s wrong and water runs uphill…. there is nothing brave, glorious, or inspiring about [a duck’s] presence.”
By the time Mangum expressed this opinion, though, ducks had already become a surrogate mascot for the more nebulous concept of the Webfooter. Sportswriters were quick to adopt the shorthand moniker for Oregon’s sports teams to save space. Before the Webfoot had become the official mascot, one off-campus fraternity near the Millrace started a tradition in the early 1920s of catching a duck and bringing the waterfowl as a spectator to UO football and basketball games.
The campus community rallied around the cause, and Puddles — the name bestowed upon the live mascot — became a fixture at football and basketball games. Campus security even posted signs along the Millrace threatening prosecution for anyone that might disturb the mascot ducks. The tradition was continued season after season by the students until Humane Society complaints about the treatment of wild animals led to its demise in the early 1940s.
Ducks gradually ingrained themselves as a standard symbol across the campus. The animal was used as the design basis for homecoming floats and other representations. The duck was transformed from the inglorious connotations of Mangum’s era into a source of university and community pride.
As sportswriters proliferated the name it became codified in both local and national consciousness as synonymous with Oregon’s teams.This de facto status as the University of Oregon’s mascot led athletic director Leo Harris to seek out an official representation of a duck for the school.
That desire led to the handshake deal in 1947 between Harris and Walt Disney which linked UO to Donald Duck. The informal arrangement allowed Oregon to use Donald’s likeness for its mascot for free as long as it was used in a reputable manner. The cartoon mogul’s studio produced several versions of Donald for the school over the next two decades, until Disney’s death in 1966 led his estate and the school to realize the lack of any formal contract. Over the next seven years, the two parties worked to create a written agreement outlining the terms of Donald’s continued use as Oregon’s official duck representative.
Donald would slowly evolve into the webfooted mascot that currently patrols Autzen Stadium, Hayward Field, and Matthew Knight Arena. After the agreement with Disney, early attempts were made to create a Donald costume to serve as the team’s mascot at games and university events.
But not everyone was keen to adopt the Disney character as its official figure. Jerry Frei, Oregon’s football coach from 1967 to 1971, wanted a duck with exposed teeth to extol the “Fighting Ducks” spirit. Dick Harter, the basketball coach from 1971 to 1978, promoted the “Kamikaze Kids” moniker for his teams and eschewed the Duck symbolism altogether. And, three years after signing the 1973 contract with Disney formalizing the use of Donald, questions arose about usage rights for the mascot.
Partially as a result of this backlash, a campus initiative was spearheaded by the Emerald in 1978 supporting the adoption of a new duck for the university. The option presented by the student newspaper, a sleeker version of a duck resembling Daffy Duck, was created by Emerald cartoonist Steve Sandstrom. The student body voted overwhelmingly by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in favor of retaining the Disney version, but the referendum also led to the official shift from Webfoot to Duck as the university’s official mascot.
Donald gained purchase as a beloved figure in the community. For the duck’s 50th anniversary celebration since his inaugural appearance in 1984, over 3,000 people came out to Eugene City Airport to witness the presentation of an honorary cap and gown to the school’s mascot. Dissent to the use of the Disney figure wouldn’t reappear until after Oregon’s appearance in the 1995 Rose Bowl. At the start of the following season, the Register-Guard ran a contest for submissions to replace Donald as the official duck. Nothing would officially come of the promotion, but it would presage future attempts to rebrand the university.
The school shifted from the one O logo to another in 1999, replacing the image of Donald bursting through a block O to a more stylized representation that incorporates the outline of Hayward Field and Autzen Stadium to create the letter. The new logo quickly became a symbol both for the school’s athletic programs as well as broader, integrated University of Oregon branding. The logo allowed the university to create memorabilia and merchandise that could be sold nationally; the deal with Disney provided UO with exclusive rights to sell merchandise with Donald’s visage locally, but the school could not brand itself beyond Oregon with the Disney figure.
The restrictions on Donald’s use have come to a head several times in the 21st century. Oregon made a short-lived attempt to replace the cartoon mascot with Mandrake, a futuristic and fit take on the duck, at the Homecoming game in 2002. By the following season, the “RoboDuck” was retired, and the Donald-like mascot would retake its place of prominence at UO sporting events.
The mascot would get itself into trouble in 2007, engaging in a fight with the University of Houston’s cougar mascot on the sidelines of a game at Autzen Stadium. The scuffle, caught live on national television, led to a one-game suspension for the mascot and brought into question once again the role of the Duck as an ambassador not just for the university but also for Disney.
By 2010, Disney agreed to disassociate Donald from the Duck, removing the trademark restrictions for the costumed mascot to appear in events outside the narrow scope of the original agreement. The restrictions remained for the image on apparel and merchandise, but the mascot itself was now free to appear throughout the Eugene community as a campus ambassador without coming into conflict with its corporate partner.
Few mascots are more iconic or readily recognizable in college sports. After years of conflict and calls for change, the Duck has become a figurehead of Oregon’s athletic programs and the UO campus community in the 21st century. From uncertain beginnings, the Duck has evolved from its Webfoot roots to become the silent king of Eugene.
Information for this article was collected from the following sources:
- Douglas Card, “The Webfooted Ducks” (unpublished paper, UO Special Collections and University Archives, 1992).
- Paul Caputo, “Getting Our Webfeet in a Row: The Story Behind the Oregon Ducks,” SportsLogos.net, Sept. 27, 2014.
- “Disney, UO Mascot Part Ways,” The Oregonian, March 4, 2010.
- “Ducks??? To the old-guard alumni, it’ll always be the Webfoots,” Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 29, 1976.
- Caitlin Estes, “No longer Puddles or Donald, the Duck has a long history,” The Duck Store, Nov. 4, 2014.
- Spencer Hall, “A day with the Duck,” SB Nation, Sept. 8, 2014.
- Joe Harwood, “Abducktion!,” Eugene Register-Guard, Sept. 3, 1995.
- “Mandrake: MIA, whereabouts unknown,” Oregon Daily Emerald, Oct. 24, 2003.
- “One Duck… or Two?,” Oregon Daily Emerald, Nov. 15, 2002.
- “The Oregon Duck: College Football’s Most Lovable Mascot,” GoDucks.com, N.D.
- “Screw Donald, bring back Mallard,” Oregon Daily Emerald, May 3, 2007.
- Photos sourced from the UO Archives Digital Photo Collection and the University of Oregon Yearbooks Archive unless otherwise noted.
Student Research Assistant